architectural agency workshop at MSU is NCARB winner

The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) announced three NCARB Award winners last night at the American Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) administrators conference. I’m thrilled that a proposal I co-wrote with Emily McGlohn, Assistant Professor of Architecture at MSU CAAD, and John Poros, director of the Carl Small Town Center (CSTC), was chosen as an award recipient.

Our proposal brings together the community design expertise of the CSTC, Emily McGlohn’s teaching knowledge and Rural Studio background, and my social impact architecture practice in Greenwood, Mississippi. Students will engage in three ways: immersion, discussions, and workshops. Gaining leadership skills, community engagement experience, and a broad perspective on the field of architecture, class participants will expand their understanding of how architects can apply their expertise to the challenges that face our society and our planet today.

Read about all three winners here, and then check out this site (preview below) and this book, “Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture” that inspire us.

spatial agency screen shot

more than housing

The Baptist Town Cottage Project has outcomes that are immediately apparent: families have decent, safe places to live. To expand the impact this project has further, our project team has folded in empathy, skills training and design thinking. This has included the Ladies in the Landscape storm-water demonstration garden, employing neighborhood residents throughout construction, and creating carpentry and landscaping details based on the preferences of each home owner. Now, as the closings are being completed for each home, Cottage buyers are finding allies in the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas (FHLB) and Planters Bank and Trust. To date, FHLB’s Home Equity Leverage Partnership (HELP) program has provided down-payment assistance grants to eight families. Read the article about this grant success on the PR Newswire.

My favorite part is this great picture of Brenda, and her story.

“She is finding her way back to something. She lived in Biloxi when Hurricane Katrina hit, and she was displaced from her home,” Ms. Roush-Elliott said. “The Baptist Town Cottages were designed for people in her situation, and despite many years and many miles traveled, she now owns a home designed to be a dignified place to live, affordable for her family, and resilient in the face of disaster.” (Excerpt from the article)

at home in greenwood

On Thursday, December 18th we celebrated the first families moving into the Baptist Town Cottage Project with a ribbon cutting ceremony. I was moved by the number of people who attended. Throughout the project, support has come from numerous individuals and organizations. I think that this generosity is rooted in an understanding that home is about more than walls and a roof, it is an avenue to financial stability and physical and emotional health. Just as important, I think the commitment that the larger Greenwood community has given to this project shows that a home is also what surrounds the structure. Healthy homes will lead to a more vibrant and equitable Greenwood.

Thank you Greenwood! For a video of the day visit Mississippi State University’s website where the Office of Public Affairs covered the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Photo credit Bryn Stole

painting the town square

Work began on the CREATE: New Houlka project on Tuesday. The design, which delineates a walking path, bike path, and parking areas around the historic downtown square, is the result of a design-impact seminar I am co-teaching with Leah Faulk Kemp through MSU’s Carl Small Town Center. Students learned about and implemented community engagement activities throughout the first few weeks of the semester and then worked together to design a response to the needs and aspirations expressed by residents.

Based on community feedback, the primary goal of the project became to attract both local and non-local people (walkers, bikers, drivers, and festival go-ers) to the square. In particular, residents and community leaders hope to attract bicyclists from the new Tanglefoot Trail (a 43.6 mile Rails to Trails conversion that opened in October 2013) to visit New Houlka, even if just for a spin around the newly painted square.

Here’s a link to the video of some news coverage we got yesterday!

jobs today, houses tomorrow

The Baptist Town neighborhood has austere statistics in terms of the poor quality of housing, low home ownership rates, and homelessness. These challenges largely inspired the Baptist Town Neighborhood Revitalization and are among the primary reasons that my fellowship exists. Despite this great need, plans to install a minimum of eleven new homes in the neighborhood could not be brought to fruition this year for a number of reasons. After initially being devastated by what felt like a failure, my hosts and I rallied around the myriad other ways to positively impact Baptist Town. Safer, more attractive pedestrian routes were created at the entry points to the neighborhood, we completed two parks, a playground, new signage throughout Baptist Town, and held the largest Community Day celebration to date, GOODat Day.

Large park and playground

New seating, shade structures, and the playground in the background.

Each of these activities reminded us that as important as housing is, it is one component of the multi-faceted approach needed to bring about long-term change in this neighborhood. One of my hosts, the Greenwood-Leflore Economic Development Foundation, provided the leadership that allowed us to respond to one of the other great needs in Baptist Town: employment. Building upon the skills residents shared during GOODat Day, we offered a competitive small business grant. We awarded the grant two weeks ago. Along with the funds, two grant winners have received business cards and will participate in four question and answer sessions with local experts who can help guide their fledgling businesses.

Angela and Roger front page news

Economic Development Foundation Executive Director, Angela Curry, and GOOD@ Small Business Grant winner Roger Williams made front page news

Our grant winner has already reported that because of the equipment he was able to buy with the grant funds he has been able to continue detailing cars in cold weather and his profit margin has increased. Though we are working hard now in hopes of beginning the housing component of the neighborhood revitalization as early as January, this work has given us insights into how to more holistically respond to the needs of the Baptist Town community. As the first year of my fellowship quickly wraps up, I am looking forward to a second year in which new homes are realized, and we can support this work through education, health, and employment related initiatives.

what’s your GOODat?

When Enterprise was awarded eight $5,000 grants from the Fetzer Institute to be used for love and forgiveness based events, I had a little trouble explaining to the local team what this meant. It turned out to be a question of semantics though, and we moved to framing the question of love in the context of value. What surfaced through this conversation was the importance of valuing oneself, and that this is a prerequisite to being a parent, child, employee, employer, teammate, neighbor, and human who is loving and forgiving. One step further, we asked ourselves how we acknowledge value, or skills and talents, across cultures in the United States. The answer was in the simple phrase, “You are good at…..” or “I am good at…..”

Based on the discovery of GOODat, and the possibility for spreading love that it brought, we began planning the third annual Baptist Town Community Day around a theme of asking and showcasing what the residents of Baptist Town are good at. We asked each other in meetings, “What are you good at?”, and my co-planner Carl Winters and I asked people as they walked, drove or biked down the street, “What’s your GOODat?” Sometimes people were uncomfortable with the question, sometimes they had lengthy answers, but what became clear is that the residents of Baptist Town (and Greenwood) are GOODat a lot things.

Activities throughout the day were planned around the responses to, “What’s your GOODat?”, and as we finished setting up, neighborhood kids were already showing how good they are at jumping and playing. After that, the day officially kicked off at 11 and residents began to visit booths set up by the Leflore County Health Center, the WIN Job Center, and the Harvard Community Development Project. At each booth, important information was available, as well as raffle tickets for door prizes. The cost of a raffle ticket? Answering the question, “What are you GOODat?”

Face painting also began at this time, and Keyauna Gatston showed her artistic skill throughout the day.

The most common answer to the GOODat question was “cooking”. Residents volunteered to cook and serve chicken, ribs, hot dogs, hamburgers, baked beans, cole slaw, and fruit. Willie Fisher, shown below, began manning the grill at 8 AM and was still serving up chicken and ribs when I left in the evening.

While lunch was being prepared, the DJ opened up the mike to anyone interested in sharing a musical talent. Lady Trucker, a professional singer, got the crowd dancing with her music, and she was followed by a praise dance by a local teen.

There was about an hour of rain in the afternoon, but few people left the event, and stayed to enjoy afternoon activities including art, bingo, a cake walk, more face painting, the inflatables and the new playground. Rosalind Wilcox led the art activities and created house numbers and name plates for residents to attach to their homes, while many residents painted their own sign boards.

While many resident shared what they are GOODat through activities, others wrote on the GOODat chalkboard (to be hung in the neighborhood community center when it is complete), shared their stories of growing up in Baptist Town with the event videographer Dash Brown, or included their skills as a door prize in the form of a GOODat gift certificate. Raffle winners could choose from a hair cut, nail art, dance lessons, or car detailing from their entrepreneurial neighbors.

GOODAt gift certificate

Throughout the day and the planning process, I was impressed with the many volunteers who shared their time and efforts and the support from the greater Greenwood community (especially the City Public Works Department). As we asked each other, “What’s your GOODat?”, I believe we were acknowledging that we are all valuable, and that was the magic of the day: each individual and what they contribute to the community by simply showing up.

GOODat chalkboards

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Saturday was the third annual Baptist Town Community Day. The theme was GOODat, and hundreds of residents came together and participated in activities celebrating the skills and talents of individuals and the neighborhood. Pictures of the day are coming soon, but here are some photos of the prep work that went into creating the blackboards used throughout the event.

a playground at last

Three little girls sat on a bench yesterday evening pointing at each new piece of playground equipment. “I’m going to play on that one, and I’m going to play on that one, and I’m going to play on that one.” As concrete footings were drying volunteers had to remind neighborhood kids that the playground wouldn’t be open until this morning.

Through the many surveys conducted in Baptist Town over the past ten years, residents have consistently emphasized the need for activities for children, specifically a playground. Despite this, when I began my job in January, no funding for a playground was in place. That changed when I met Cyndi Long from a local office of GE Capital Aviation Services. We began to work together, and she supported our grant application to the GE Volunteer Foundation. Cyndi and her co-workers were flexible and creative, and joined us in leading a kid’s only community meeting in April to brainstorm with neighborhood kids what they most wanted in the playground. As a result, we won a grant from the GE Volunteer Foundation for $4,000, and the local GECAS branch sponsored approximately $3,500 in play equipment and supplies. A crew of GE volunteers to construct the park was also a part of the grant award.

8 AM from south

Yesterday, twenty-eight volunteers from GECAS, including Greenwood residents and many who drove down from Memphis, brought to life what had previously only existed on paper. Starting with swings and bouncers on a grassy site in the morning, the group wrapped up the day with a completed playground by evening. When I visited the site this morning, the three little girls were true to their word – playing on every piece of equipment we had installed. In the short time I visited today, a dozen kids jumped, slid, climbed and see sawed. I know this demographic is enjoying the result of this project, but the realization of something so long asked for seems important to the community as a whole. “Hopeful” is a word I have heard a lot in regard to the playground project. I am honored to be a part of something hopeful, and am looking forward to GOODat day on Saturday where we continue to celebrate the people of Baptist Town of all ages.

I am grateful to so many people for realizing this playground. As I continue to work in the field of social impact design, each project demonstrates that nothing is completed by an individual, but is the product of many collaborators. Obviously, GE and Cyndi played huge roles, but whether you drove a truck, lent a wheelbarrow, lent a hand, wrote about the day, or enjoy hanging up-side-down from the monkeybars: thank you, this would not have happened without you.


The Carl Small Town Center, based out of Mississippi State University’s College of Architecture, Art + Design, is one of my hosts throughout this fellowship. Their advice and expertise is already providing invaluable support, and I am excited to give back to the school this May as an instructor. Public design will be the focus of this hands-on course that will result in a pocket park in the Baptist Town neighborhood.

maymester poster blog

As I prepared a presentation to introduce myself and the course to Mississippi State students on Friday, I was reminded of how I initially became interested in public architecture. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, the projects I experienced first-hand while studying abroad in South America still inform the way I think about the role of architecture in the public realm. Thank you to my long ago professor Claudio Vekstein.

boston orientation


This weekend the new class of Enterprise Rose Fellows had orientation in Boston. Getting to know new friends, explore Boston (Thank you for the great tour, Mark!), and understand the nationwide organization that will support us (and us them) is helping me wrap my mind around the work that I will be doing over the next few years – and who to call when I need help.